Lessons in Caring

Kinesiology students take mission trips to the Dominican Republic

Every January since 2011, Dr. Alan Jung, chair of the department of kinesiology, leads a group of students and physicians to the Dominican Republic to operate a mobile medical clinic treating patients who otherwise might find it impossible to see a doctor.

“Five years ago, I met the founder of One Vision International, a not-for-profit in Knoxville, Tennessee,” Jung says. “They organize mission trips to the Dominican Republic and other seemingly forgotten parts of the world. We decided to form a partnership that I knew would benefit both the people of the Dominican Republic and our students.”

Typically, One Vision will work with the pastors of churches in the cities that Jung and his team visit. The pastors, in turn, coordinate with the people in their communities so that when the mobile clinic shows up there are lines of people waiting to be seen. Most of these people either have no access to health care, or have no way to pay for it. “We don’t work with existing health care clinics. We are the clinic,” Jung says.

Jung’s students are in the DR for seven days, moving daily from village to village. They set up each morning and break it down at night. They rarely move more than 30 miles from their base of operations because, as Jung puts it, “we don’t want to spend our entire trip on the bus.”

Once the clinic is set up, the physicians and students see patients in two shifts. Each doctor has a team of students to help and a translator, though if a student speaks Spanish they can serve in that role as well. Together, they will treat a variety of minor emergencies and conditions, from surface wounds to infections.

Great doctors; great role models

Jung is quick to praise the physicians who make the trip.

“The doctors who travel with us are amazing people. One, Dr. Ryan Rainer, graduated from our department in the 1990s with a degree in sports medicine before going to medical school. We’ll also take two or three other physicians who are parents of our students. They are all great role models. They show our students what it means to have a servant heart, what it means to put your gifts to work helping those who need it the most.”

And that is an important motivation for returning to the Dominican Republic each year. It’s a chance to practice caring for patients. But it’s an opportunity for something much larger. For Jung, the greatest lessons come when students connect with the patients they see on a personal level.

“One of the biggest things I want students to learn is that we’re here to treat people, not conditions,” Jung says. “For our students, this is not just a chance to shadow a physician as they work. We could do that in Birmingham. What makes this trip so valuable is that it’s a chance to serve people in a culture that is different than their own.”

“It’s a chance to see that medicine is a tool to reach people. Yes, we are there to care for the immediate, physical needs of the people we see. But each of us has the capacity to serve, regardless of our skills. And it is important that we use those gifts we’ve been given to make other people’s live better.”

“On a trip like this, there is a lot of opportunity for prayer. People will ask for our prayers, or we’ll offer. These are great times to care for people in ways that medicine alone can’t provide.”

What matters most

“One of the things I always find most gratifying,” Jung says, “is to see those students who in the beginning are shy and reserved, scared even. By the time we leave they will be fully engaged, using their gifts. It is amazing to see our students grow through the experience. One of my favorite quotes from scripture captures the reasons why I teach, personally, but also why we feel these mission trips are so important. It’s 1 Peter 4:10 “Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others.”

“One year, we had two students who were a bit nervous about their ability to help. Both were soccer players and they always had a ball with them. And everywhere we went, when they pulled that ball out children would surround them. Watching our students grow by playing a game, watching them connect with those kids everywhere we went, seeing them realize their own gifts — it was nothing short of a miracle. It was a perfect example of using one’s gifts to serve others.”